Aug. 19, 2019

Katush - An Everyday Superhero

Mookh: What sparked your love for fashion?

Katush: I think that’s a very challenging one because I can’t seem to remember when or what. Although, I do have a very early memory of being probably around the age of eight and opening my mum’s closet and taking out her wedding evening gown which was this beautiful silk/satin dress with a lace back… and shoulder pads because that was the in thing of the day. Anyway, I took it and I started chopping it up because it was too long for me. It wasn’t quite fitting at the waist and I’m not sure I cared for shoulder pads at the time. Yeah, so I chopped it up, stapled it here and there… a bit of masking tape, sellotape, name it! Pins… That’s little to say, when mum came home I proceeded to hide myself under the bed. I knew I had done something wrong. That’s sort of how that went and I think I continued to participate in things that related to what I do now.

Mookh: How has your work evolved since you started designing?

Katush: When I started designing, my work wasn’t very experimental. I was making things that you could find with ease and I wasn’t trying to come up with solutions or creative concepts for a consumer that does not have them. So, I think over the last 10 years, since having gone through formal education and studying fashion, I am now conscious of my work as an art, as a tool for me to express myself, my thoughts, my concerns and as a product for consumers. It has evolved quite a bit. My work is now more… more intentional. It looks and feels like my growth. Who I have become, who I am and the influences and the environment that I live in, my work is a direct reflection of that. I have also realized that it is a reflection of my emotional state at that point. It has been interesting; it’s been exciting and I genuinely love my work.

Mookh: What has changed in your creative process over the years?

Katush: When I started, I think used to try and follow a calendar. I would say I will design between this period and this period and then I’ll be done. But I think, what I was not conscious of was that I am influenced by different things at different times of the year. So, my creative process is sort of continuous. It probably was so before but now I’m conscious of it. I now collect and keep sources of inspiration with me which tend to carry out through all my various upcoming collections. I also sketch all the time. I come up with ideas all the time. So, it’s just an endless process, whereas, before I felt it was slightly more rigid.

Mookh: Where do you draw inspiration? How does it show in your work?

Katush: I’ve definitely always been interested in identity and culture. I remember this was sort of sparked when I went to university. Whenever people would ask me what Kenya was like, I couldn’t seem to explain it to them because I think they always had this broad perception that Kenya = Africa = lions in your backyard etc. I grew up in Nairobi and it was very difficult for me to differentiate between living in Nairobi and being in university in the UK. Despite the similarities, there were obvious differences but it was difficult to elaborate on them because it was not just that being Kenyan was Tusker and ugali… God knows. It was not those physical or materialistic things. It was the practices that I found very difficult to elaborate on, mostly because I didn’t have the language or the ability to describe the subtle nuances of what it meant to be a young lady from Nairobi at that point. It led me into the idea of exploring traditional cultures because I was interested in the silhouettes, in the practices, in the rituals that I felt at that point in my life had lost relevance in the society that I currently live in. I was determined (with all of my oneself at that point) to find a way of making them relevant through my work. That meant borrowing cues and applying them in my work either as a reminder of a past or even some still existence that we could celebrate now; in the life that I lived, which was more urban-Nairobian, amongst my peers. That sort of strain has continued. I continue to borrow from traditional societies and communities and bring them into my work as a celebration of life and identity.

Image by Fionn Mccann

Mookh: What are you into right now?

Katush: I think I’m exploring the Pokot. Right now, I’m feeling the Pokot, definitely. The rights of passage into adulthood for both men and women are quite interesting. Of course, sometimes it doesn’t really show in my work but it makes me very curious. Cause even now I’m very curious about the rights of passage in our society as the youth that I am. Do we then have rituals, and not in the physical sense, but what do we do that shows that we are now adults? Is now the ritual practice, applying for an ID or celebrating our 18th birthdays? Are those now a replacement for these traditional practices? Or are there things we could also borrow from our traditional sense? Could we have peer to peer sessions with mentors like we see with the Pokot in the wild, being taught how to survive? Have we carried this on into our environment? I’m very curious about those practices and their relevance in our society now and I can see the value in them and I’d really like to see more of that in our societies. It’s rare to see a strong supporting peer and mentor environments.

Mookh: Describe the Katush Nairobi man or woman?

Katush: These are the startup entrepreneurs, working mothers, bored corporates, creatives, sympathetic hipsters and transitioning hippies. Individuals that fall under a more adventurous Steve Jobs fashion and lifestyle sense. They like to be comfortable; they are understatedly stylish, subtly distinct and because I feel like my aesthetic is sort of like an urban, pan-African, I have to toss in there a minimalist sort of look. They are also confidently relaxed in themselves and quite compassionate. This is what the ideal Katush man and woman looks like.

Mookh: Who are your muses?

Katush: Definitely my peers, my aunts… a variety of people that I would call everyday superheroes. Everyday cool people.

Mookh: What was the inspiration behind your most recent collection “everyday superheroes”?

Katush: People who do really cool stuff that we sometimes overlook and should be more conscious of. The small things, the little detail. Somebody that remembers to hug you in the morning. Somebody that brings you a cup of coffee in the office. Somebody that smiles at you randomly at a bus stop. People doing every day, regular stuff that helps people get through. That was sort of the concept behind the characters that I was developing in the collection. But I think it’s going to be an underlying narrative for my collections moving forward. I, also, created a print that was inspired by the Imigongo art from Rwanda and I sort of merged this with the mud cloth from Mali and created this interesting sort of tapestries that I then digitally imposed on the fabrics. That was something exciting and fun. Of course, now I have to be on the next collection which I’m also really excited about. This is where I bring in cultures and communities and make them a part of my life now and celebrate them.

Image by Fionn Mccann

Mookh: If you had to pick one what would you say is your favorite piece from the collection?

Katush: I really fell in love with the Lucia wrap dress. I think it’s my favorite because there is so much I want to do with that shape and form. So, at the moment I have been experimenting with evolving it farther. That’s currently my favorite.

Mookh: What do you love about the fashion scene in Nairobi?

Katush: The fashion scene in Nairobi is pretty exciting. The existence of 2manysiblings and this whole new wave of entertainers in the music industry who are exploring dress and identity, it’s bustling. It’s probably with the existence of mitumba but upcycling has become quite the in thing to do at the moment and there is a variety of really cool kids doing really exciting and amazing stuff. Nairobi is looking pretty cool right now and it’s an inspiring space to be in.

Mookh: What do you wish was different about the fashion scene in Nairobi?

Katush: Not much actually. I think Nairobi is doing something really exciting. It’s finding its way; it’s filling out it’s position etc. I sort of want to see where it’s going to go and find itself. Because theoretically, the fashion scene is changing globally, I’d like to see where we end up and what cool things we’ll start doing and how we’ll distribute it or exhibit it. We’re an exciting bunch of people. I’m curious what the outcome will be and I want to be a part of it; I want to see; I want to enjoy.

Mookh: What does success look like to you when it comes to your work?

Katush: Success is definitely seeing an item or a concept come to life. That’s the first level of my success. So, if it’s developing print, the initial development phase to the actual print itself. Or coming up with the design and seeing the actual dress or jacket or whatever it is, that’s usually my initial instant gratification/success point. That’s basically internal. Then comes the success of validation which is how people relate with or react to my work. Do they love it? Are they buying it? That one is a bit more difficult to maneuver or manage. I think because my work is so personal to me that it can be sometimes so heartbreaking. Even if someone is not buying, do they love the piece? Are they able to express or show their interest in the item? Then again, I also ask myself do I need that form of validation? Is it not enough that I have enjoyed and loved the process of developing and finally creating the item? The idea of success in my work is in ever evolving one, or an internal battle, as I think it is for a lot of us.

Mookh: What has the biggest hurdle been in achieving that?

Katush: For me, success, in the general sense has also been that I am here still doing what I set out to do and what I love. And, I have actually made and done quite a few landmark things for myself that I am learning to celebrate and acknowledge. However, at times, with all cool landmark things that have happened, there’s also been a few that have felt devastating and getting past them has not always been the easiest because of the concept of failure. I think, probably like many people do, the idea of failure has always felt so permanent. In that state, when something has gone wrong, I have not been as quick to accept and move on and understand that failure is not a permanent state and that it’s okay because it really is okay.

Image by Fionn Mccann

Mookh: And how have you dealt with that?

Katush: It’s been interesting. I’ve learnt to ask for help, to speak about my challenges and similarly, I feel like people around me too have started to share. It’s sort of created an environment of progress… of actual progress, at least in my close circles or with my family, instead of living in a world of falsehoods and pretense. The focus has now changed and become on dealing with the root cause of any situation be it good or bad. It’s just finding the confidence to seek out help and to give help and to be compassionate with those around you. That’s how I’ve dealt with it and I’m continuing to learn and grow how to be okay and to be vulnerable.

Mookh: Especially in a world where social media is at the core of our daily interactions, it can sometimes feel like everyone else is living in a perfect world. How do you feel about that?

Katush: I sell fashion. I sell a lifestyle and I really battle with the effects of social media on our lives. I’m really struggling with the idea of wanting to sell a lifestyle that is not perfect because in reality it can’t be because there is no such illusion. And I wonder if there is a consumer that is willing to buy imperfection. Similarly, even in a personal sort of state, I worry that social media has no room for compassion or vulnerability. In a world that is as fast-paced as our own, this can seem quite terrifying and concerning. At the same time, is there room for compassion or vulnerability when you have over 1,000 followers? People you only know intimately in a digital space. I feel quite wary of social media and people showing perfect lives and lifestyles because I know it’s not real. We are now in a generation where people might aspire to living unrealistic lifestyles that they can neither afford nor mentally sustain and build genuine relationships around. So, yes, I do generally struggle with social media.

Mookh: Do you think it’s important for people to be just as open about their failures as they are with their success? Why?

Katush: Yes, I definitely think we need to be more open with our failures as we are with our successes. We live in a very difficult environment and I don’t know if that has always been the case. And maybe it’s because we use the word failure, but, if we are unable to accept or acknowledge something that is bound to happen and happens, how do we then live when it does? I just don’t think hiding our failures is creating an environment of progress.

Mookh: If you had the power to control the narrative around what success and failure mean, what would you say?

Katush: I’d almost say that I wish they could be celebrated equally and wept for equally. I do wonder if success can be enjoyed if one does not know failure? And if failure can be learned from if one does not expect success? We need to be more conscious and compassionate with ourselves.

All images shot by Fionn Mccann

Check out Everyday Superheroes here